Dr. R. C. Sproul – The Heresy of Perfectionism

An ancient heresy of the distinction between two types of Christians, carnal and Spirit-filled, is the heresy of perfectionism. Perfectionism teaches that there is a class of Christians who achieve moral perfection in this life. To be sure, credit is given to the Holy Spirit as the agent who brings total victory over sin to the Christian. But there is a kind of elitism in perfectionism, a feeling that those who have achieved perfection are somehow greater than other Christians. The “perfect” ones do not officially—take credit for their state, but smugness and pride have a way of creeping in.

The peril of perfectionism is that it seriously distorts the human mind. Imagine the contortions through which we must put ourselves to delude us into thinking that we have in fact achieved a state of sinlessness.

Inevitably the error of perfectionism breeds one, or usually two, deadly delusions. To convince ourselves that we have achieved sinlessness, we must either suffer from a radical overestimation of our moral performance or we must seriously underestimate the requirements of God’s law. The irony of perfectionism is this: Though it seeks to distance itself from antinomianism, it relentlessly and inevitably comes full circle to the same error.

To believe that we are sinless we must annul the standards of God’s Law. We must reduce the level of divine righteousness to the level of our own performance. We must lie to ourselves both about the Law of God and about our own obedience. To do that requires that we quench the Spirit when He seeks to convict us of sin. Persons who do that are not so much Spirit-filled as they are Spirit-quenchers.

Continue Reading

Please follow and like us:
0

Ligon Duncan – Total Depravity and the Believer’s Sanctification

Tullian Tchividjian of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft Lauderdale, FL and Rick Phillips of Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC have recently engaged with the doctrine of total depravity in its relation to Christians. That is, they are discussing not whether or not people in their natural state are totally depraved, but whether and in what sense believers may be spoken of as “totally depraved.” This is a very important issue, so I am glad to have it put on the front burner.

Years ago, Tabletalk magazine asked me to write an article on this subject. I was interacting primarily with forms of Christian perfectionist teaching on the one hand and carnal Christian teaching on the other. But I think the article still speaks to issues that the Reformed and evangelical community is debating today. So, here it is.

Total depravity is a reality, both taught in Holy Scripture and experienced in life, with important implications not only for pagans but also for Christians. Very often we think of this Biblical doctrine in connection with those who are unregenerate, or with regard to Christians before their conversion, but we reflect less frequently on the depravity which still infects those who have been saved by grace and reborn of the Spirit. This is a serious omission, for misunderstanding or underestimating the continuing corruption in the believer leaves the Christian unprepared for the warfare of sanctification and leads to a variety of spiritual problems.

There are many errors propagated in evangelical circles on this subject, the two main tendencies of which are: perfectionism and antinomianism. The former asserts that the Christian life is (or ought to be) characterized by complete victory over sin. Hence, Christian life as intended by God is “higher life” or the “victorious life.” Perfectionistic teachers not only distort the biblical teaching on holiness, but also dangerously underestimate the believer’s struggle with indwelling sin (setting up the tender-hearted Christian for a real struggle with depression and assurance).

On the other end of the spectrum, purveyors of antinomian dogma insist that true Christians may be no different in terms of vital godliness than pagans. They teach that the believer may be judicially free from sin, while “carnal” in the overall tendency of life. Oftentimes without realizing it, they teach that sin may still have dominion in the believer’s life (setting up many for tragic self-deception and encouraging spiritual lethargy in others).

Continue Reading

Please follow and like us:
0

Winston Hottman – The Gospel and the (Im)perfect Marriage

According to Merriam-Webster, perfectionism can be defined as follows:

A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.

Despite the need for a little more nuancing, this description serves as a strong working definition. Perfectionism doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, and even we as Christians tend to look at perfectionism as a “respectable” sin. The simple truth is that perfectionism, like all other sin, is a blatant form of human pride. One thing is clear too: I’m a perfectionist.

As a Christian, my brand of perfectionism can be a little more subtle because it sometimes disguises itself in pious clothing. But even when perfectionism seems to be aimed at godly living, it is prideful because it expects from ourselves now what only God has promised to accomplish in the future. Perfectionism disregards God’s promise to make us who we ought to be by attempting in our own strength to meet the goal of that promise in the present, and by positioning ourselves as the final judges of our performance.

Depending on how well we do in our own eyes, perfectionism can play out in a variety of negative responses: feelings of worthlessness, inordinate preoccupation with the opinions of other people, paralyzing fear, impatience with others, and a sense of superiority.

While I’ve recognized my perfectionist tendencies for some time now and while I am confident that God is changing me, the reality is that I tend to carry that disposition into my relationships, not least of which is my marriage.

The Perfect Marriage?

As an avid reader, I spent the years leading up to my marriage reading plenty of Christian books on marriage and husbanding. I gleaned much truth and wise advice, but as I grew in my understanding of what marriage should be, what was partially a sincere desire to glorify God became a self-oriented, unrealistic expectation. It led to an anticipation that if I just tried hard enough, I could meet the biblical standard of a godly husband, or at least come pretty close. It led to a demand for a spouse that was exactly what God says a wife should be, and a marriage that perfectly mimicked the scriptural picture of that relationship.

Continue Reading

Please follow and like us:
0